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Dispatches from the (Electoral) Front

A question for all you fellow political junkies out there: what races did you find interesting in your neck of the woods, and why?Here in CA, I was intrigued by the trajectory of the Prop. 19 race. Had the measure passed, possession of an ounce of marijuana or growing a 5x5' plot for personal use would have been legal in the state. Some context: marijuana is so easily available here and its use so widely accepted, that smoking it isn't even particularly transgressive in most circles. Medical marijuana is available on the flimsiest of medical pretexts, sometimes prescribed by doctors who'd rather see their patients smoke legally than illegally, since they smoke anyway. Being busted for possession of small amounts of pot now amounts to a mere infraction, like a parking ticket. Marijuana is the state's largest cash crop. Early in the race, the measure had a strong lead. Then opponents started looking at the text of the law: yes, it would be legal, but there would be no statewide agency to regulate (and tax!) the stuff. Regulation would be a patchwork of local policies. Oakland voters, e.g., were presented with a now-moot tax proposal that would have imposed a stiff tax on recreational pot. Similarly, the measure failed to address questions of impairment adequately. Employers would have to demonstrate not just that their employees were high, but that their work was adversely affected. Mothers Against Drunk Driving opposed the initiative because while impaired driving would still be illegal, passengers would be allowed to smoke--a really dumb oversight. Plus, the feds said they'd still enforce the anti-pot rules, (e.g. requiring clean drug tests for train, truck and bus drivers and airline pilots) even if CA didn't--another legal mess. As the case against the measure on legal grounds heated up, public opinion shifted. The San Francisco Chronicle opposed it as bad law. And the measure went down 54-46%, not because Californians don't smoke, and not because they don't favor legalization, but because THIS legalization measure was badly written. Go California!

About the Author

Lisa Fullam is professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. She is the author of The Virtue of Humility: A Thomistic Apologetic (Edwin Mellen Press).



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Lisa, re: the flaws in the proposition: if only I weren't what is, no doubt, the ten thousandth person to wonder aloud if, in writing the bill, the authors' judgement wasn't impaired in some way :-)

I suspect that the big pot money in CA (I live there, too and there is a LOT of big money being made, particularly in the sparsely-populated north coast) doesn't want to see legalization. Control, regulation and taxation that would inevitably follow would cramp their styles and lifestyles.

But woe unto you Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and every herb, and pass over justice and the love of God: but these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Luke 11:42

Indeed! Among the problems with the status quo is unequal enforcement of current laws. African Americans are prosecuted for marijuana-related "crimes" at a rate many times their proportion in the population. So yes, we could have taken a step toward something more like justice AND tithed "every herb." (Does the rosemary on my deck come under this injunction, too?)

Dan Benishek, pro-life, fiscally conservative Republican, won Bart Stupak's seat in Michigan's U.P. by a decisive margin.Interestingly, both he and his opponent, Democrat Gary McDowell, were endorsed by Michigan Right to Life, the state's premiere anti-abortion PAC. That's the same organization that reversed its longtime support from Stupak after he persuaded President Obama to sign the executive order confirming that federal money would not be used to pay for abortions.McDowell was the only Democrat endorsed by Michigan Right to Life in any federal race.'s loss suggests that something more than the issue of abortion is at work, even though it was Stupak's vote that inspired Benishek to get into the race.The U.P. is generally fiscally conservative, and Benishek has vowed to reject all earmarks--even those that would bring money to his own district. However, it will be interesting to see how well that plays over the long haul in an area where residents experience chronic underemployment and where the good jobs are often in state and federal government.

Jean you have found the blessing in the Tea Party ramblings. The Republican Party now has an abundance of incompatible philosophies that can finally build a "big tent" to hold warring constituencies. How else can you explain an election that demands that the government do something about unemployment, and that government not do anything?Of course, there were precursors to this, like appointing non-activist judges to actively rewrite the law on abortion, but the contradictions now are so strong that the party will have to learn how to deal with diversity.

Jim, that's an interesting observation about diversity, but I know a lot of Republicans who looked askance at the Christian political right wing when Pat Robertson et al were flying high. The GOP, howevever, has always been much better than the Democrats at showing a united front even when there was fighting in the back room. I don't think it's fair to say that the Republicans want government to do something about unemployment and not do anything. Michigan's Governor-Elect Rick Snyder plans to unfetter regulations on business (which is usually code for lowering environmental standards and cutting business taxes). I also think it's clear from the way John Boehner last night moved himself to tears with his own story about mopping the floor of the family tavern and working nights to put himself through college that anybody who receives public assistance of any sort can consider themselves on notice.

Regarding marijuana in CA, in additional to traditional values folks, there were several forces against prop 19:- Established growers- Police unions- Prison guard union- Social services unionGrowers want the status quo obviouslyPolice and prison guards prefer the status quo because prop 19 might have meant some staff reductions. Of course they couch things in language of public safety, but behind all that is job security and money.Social services gains quite a bit from the status quo in that all the court-ordered rehab brings in a more or less steady stream of revenue, ensuring jobs and salaries.Finally and not unimportantly Many Latino and Black folks who have seen the ravages of hard drug use honestly do not think legalizing it will help much. I happen to think they are mistaken (marijuana is not a hard drug), but I also understand they are sincere.I consider the matter of law and order and of making sure people are taxed properly. As already mentioned, marijuana smoking in CA is common. People either break the law outright or they sometimes weedle around it with lame medical excuse. Either way, this undermines respect for the law and order. If so many Californians want to smoke marijuana, we ought to revise our laws accordingly. Also, cigarette smokers pay tax of each pack they buy; marijuana smokers ought to do likewise.

"A question for all you fellow political junkies out there: what races did you find interesting in your neck of the woods, and why?"------------- I was interested in Prop. B, the puppy mill proposition. One out of three pups sold in pet shops across the country comes from Missouri, and many are raised in horrible conditions. It passed. I voted for it, but I don't see how it can be enforced. I was surprised at the organized opposition to it.

Gerelyn, thanks for that update! One of my students wrote a paper about Prop B. What are the impediments to enforcement? I read the Hannibal paper's story about it, but it didn't give details.

Hi, Jean! No one is going to knock on every trailer door to see if the old man is cooking meth and the old woman is breeding dogs. There's a long tradition of dog breeding in Missouri. (See, e.g., The Voice of Bugle Ann, by MacKinlay Kantor. )And a long tradition of secrecy. E.g., the town bully of Skidmore (who was also a dog breeder) was shot and killed -- executed -- in broad daylight thirty years ago. No one ever told who did it. rural areas, no one is going to inspect remote farm houses to see what conditions the animals are kept in. Just as farm women used to raise chickens to get a little egg money for themselves, now they breed puppies. Even in the cities, no one is going to investigate anyone's house to see what animals are there. Just a week or so ago in Kansas City, a 300-lb. chimpanzee escaped from its owner's house. Along Highway 44 (old Route 66) the old tradition of reptile farms and private zoos is another disgusting example. In one week in 2008, tigers in two private zoos attacked keepers. Etc. The only way to stop puppy mills is for pet shops to stop buying pups from them, and for prospective pet owners to stop buying pets from pet shops. Not likely.

Interesting on MO Prop. B. As a (former) dog show person and veterinarian, I deplored the puppy mill business on several grounds:1. Horrific conditions under which the dogs are raised2. Playing on people's ignorance of what constitutes a good-quality dog. Heck, you can often get a very well-bred (i.e., someone's paying attention to health, conformation and temperament) puppy for a fraction of what the poor suckers who walked into pet stores were paying. It's a caveat emptor situation and the emptors just weren't doing their homework. (And of course it isn't just the mills that are a problem: I suggest that people buying a purebred dog from a breeder should ask the breeder why they're breeding their dog. Absent a good answer, walk out.)3. Really low quality dogs. My veterinary colleagues and I used to play "find the congenital defect" with pet store puppies--and almost always we'd find something. The puppy mill only has to have the animals be AKC registrable and alive at 8-12 weeks old--after that, they have no interest in the animals' well-being.Reading the Hannibal story, though, I wonder if a person keeping, say, 5 or 6 Rottweilers in outdoor housing (well-insulated runs, etc.,) would also fall afoul of the new law. Some excellent breeders have several dogs, and some large breeds do well housed outdoors...

Yes, there are good breeders. And I hope they will continue to flourish. As to the hoarders and other nut cases, I see no solution. I pity the animal control people who have to go in and rescue the victims.About the Missouri fox hounds, as described so beautifully in The Voice of Bugle Ann: they don't kill foxes, they just chase them while their owners sit around a fire listening to their baying.Here's a perfect description of Missouri dog people at their best:

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